When asked why I joined the Peace Corps, I don’t really have a great answer. I sometimes muddle out something about my undergraduate experience at a Jesuit college in Nebraska, which was focused on service, justice, and post-graduate volunteering. Volunteering for a year or so was a path many of my peers took when they finished school, and I also felt a desire to answer that call. I also wanted to see the world, and the Peace Corps was one of the best options to move abroad for a kid from “the rez.”
I am a Northern Arapaho, Black, and German man who grew up on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. Serving in the Peace Corps was not only basically unheard of on my reservation, but also in Wyoming in general. Going out of state for college was a major departure from the norm, let alone working abroad in a developing country.
While serving in Morocco I soon realized the image America exports and the story it tells has no room for the indigenous people who originally called the continent home. I have grown accustomed to the general lack of knowledge the average American has about Native Americans, our history, current issues, and concerns. However, serving in the Peace Corps highlighted the lack of representation Native Americans face abroad. I would often talk to my community members about Native Americans, my tribe and its history. I would tell my community that if they visit America they will learn of many places with names from the land’s original inhabitants: states, rivers, mountain ranges, forests, lakes, and streets. I would spend time talking to them about contemporary Native American concerns in an attempt to show the diversity of both America and the hundreds of different tribes in the nation.
Joshuah Marshall is seen here at his swearing in for the Peace Corps.
If at times my experiences as a Native American in the Peace Corps had some challenges, it also informed much of the work I did in Morocco and in the Berber community I lived. The parallels between the Berbers, the indigenous people of Morocco, and Native peoples in the United States were striking: traditional lands invaded; communities relocated to less than desirable places; forced assimilation and religious conversion; the banning of the language. But there are similarities also in the attempts to change these histories. One example is the growing Berber Pride movement with films, poetry, art, and plays being made in Berber. In Morocco, Berber is now taught in the schools again. It has become one of the country’s official languages. Similarly, in the United States there is a resurgence of Native language revitalization and preservation.
I was also deeply aware of the need for respecting the Berber’s indigenous ways of knowing and doing. Peace Corps training focused on the need for participatory analysis and community action, integration into the local community, and designing projects with community input were major components. The importance of this was not wasted on me. Native American communities know all too well the consequences of programs designed by outsiders and consultants. Often, policies developed by people hundreds or thousands of miles away by those who think they know better than the communities to be served miss the mark. I brought my experiences growing up and working with local programs into my public health work in Morocco in hopes of avoiding the same pitfalls.
Joshuah and a fellow volunteer at a Ramadan breakfast.
It is this understanding of respecting and valuing indigenous ways of knowing that my identity as an Arapaho man greatly informed. I knew the pain of having my community or tribe’s ways of knowing, doing, and feeling disregarded by outsiders. I knew the results of solutions foisted upon a community. I knew the feeling of being told what my tribe is doing is wrong and that what others want for you is better and right. My service in the Peace Corps allowed me to encounter other people who also understood this dynamic. Upon my return to the States, going to grad school, and my current work in policy, community development, and program evaluation in Indian country, I have incorporated many of the skills I developed in the Peace Corps into my work.
Joshuah Marshall served in the Peace Corps in Morocco from 2007-2009. He is originally from the Wind River Reservation and is Northern Arapaho, African American, and German. He currently works in Washington, D.C. as a project consultant for Native American community and economic development policy. He is a 2012 recipient of the Peace Corps Franklin H. Williams Award.